On Tuesday evening I had the honour of experiencing Rare Grill, which was named 2017 The Wolftrap Steakhouse Championship winner, the first time in the five year history of the Championships that a Cape Town steakhouse has won the award. What makes this Award so amazing is that the Rare Grill only opened in Kenilworth nine months ago, and only seats 26 patrons! Continue reading →
Last night Eat Out presented its 2016 Western Cape Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Everyday Eatery Award winners, the second year that the awards have been presented provincially (previously presented nationally), and are less controversial than last year, with one exception! Continue reading →
Last week Eat Out dropped the bombshell that it is changing its ‘Best Of‘ awards, awarding an award in 10 categories (five of them new), in each of our country’s provinces, making it a total of 90 ‘Best of‘ awards! The method of selecting the ‘Best of‘ winners has changed dramatically, making the new winners of 2015 incomparable to those of the past four years! It appears to stem from Eat Out‘s desperation to be national, and not to be criticized for being so Cape-dominant in its awards. It makes a mockery of what the Eat Out awards stand for!
Almost three weeks ago Eat Out announced the shocking news that it had separated the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards from the ‘Best Of‘ awards, the latter awards to be presented in October already, in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Given the news of the award base of what they are now calling Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Best Everyday Eateries Awards Continue reading →
I had heard from a chef a while ago that the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards will be changed this year, in that all the judges have been let go, and that new judging categories will be added for the annual evaluation.
I received confirmation of the judging change directly from one of the judges, Anna Trapido telling me spontaneously that she had been “fired” from her one-year tenure as one of the four Eat Out judges. Long-term judges Pete Goffe-Wood and Arnold Tanzer have been let go too, leaving Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly as the sole judge to choose the elite Top 10 chefs of the country. The problem with this of course is that every restaurant worth its salt knows what she looks like, and will be expecting her visit if they expect to be on the Top 20 shortlist. Every restaurant kitchen probably has her photograph, in anticipation of her visit!
The Eat Out judging change announcement was made in the Eat Out newsletter last week, and there is no mention of the ex-judges, nor is their past contribution acknowledged. Ms Donnelly writes: “It’s a very big responsibility, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. Through the year, I make an effort to visit restaurants more than once, so to get the most balanced view possible. It’s also of the utmost importance for me to get to know the chefs behind the food and find out what their philosophies are”, she wrote. What exactly she means when she writes that “I won’t be judging for my peers. I will be judging with knowledgeable foodies in mind. The people who are actually dining out at Top 10 restaurants on a regular basis” is unclear. This makes one worry – was Ms Donnelly judging to satisfy her fellow judges in the past, and what would have made their taste in and evaluation of restaurants different to that of the ‘foodies’ she writes about? This begs the question as to the comparability of the Awards outcome in November this year, compared to that of all previous years.
A further uncertainty is exactly what Ms Donnelly means when she writes about a further judging change: “…the awards are going to be much more inclusive and will celebrate the best Asian, steakhouse, Italian, bistro and country-style restaurants. The awards are no longer only about the celebration of fine-dining establishments. It’s very important that the fabulous specialist eateries dotted around the country are given the recognition they deserve.” It was not clear from the newsletter if the restaurant types mentioned by her will each attract awards for the best in each category, or if all of these styles will compete with fine-dining restaurants. One would also have liked to see recognition for the best South African-style restaurant, for the Restaurant that is most environmentally responsible in its sourcing, handling and disposal of food, and for the Restaurant with the best Menu.
In addition to announcing the Top 10 Restaurant list, as well as the Top Restaurant, Top Chef, and Top Service, the following categories will be added: Best New Restaurant of the Year, and Most Stylish Establishment in the Country. This could cause some compromises, as we saw in the 2009 Awards, when Bizerca won in a newly created Bistro category that year, and fell off the Top 10 list. It also would be easier for Nobu at the One&Only Cape Town, for example, to win Top Asian restaurant, when it should really be a contender in the more competitive Top 10 Restaurant award.
To gain clarification, we sent Ms Donnelly some questions, and her response time was impressive, especially as she was ill.
Why the change in judging?
No. I have great respect for their knowledge and experience and would have no hesitation to work with any of them again.
Does it allow consistency with previous awards?
Absolutely. Consistency will always be key – it’s what our brand is about. Whether the judging is done by one person or ten people, it’s a subjective process. I am however judging restaurants according to criteria and a scorecard.
Please can you explain how you will cater for the non fine-dining restaurants in the awards?
Our new award categories are more inclusive – and allows for more non-fine dining restaurants to be recognized. Best steakhouse, Best bistro, Best Italian restaurant, Best Asian restaurant and Best country-style restaurant along with Best new restaurant will celebrate restaurants that will probably not be categorized as fine dining. These eateries make up the bulk of our database of restaurants, as well as the places most frequented by our consumers.
How will you choose your shortlist?
I will be looking at all the specific categories and then shortlist restaurants. Together with our reviewers and online users I will determine who is consistently shining. In the Asian category, I’ll consider places serving anything from sushi to Thai, from inner city to harbour edge. In the Italian category, family-run trattorias to ultra modern pizzerias. Steakhouses to be considered might focus on serving the best-aged or grass fed meat. The best bistro will be a restaurant that is doing something more than casual but just not too fine dining. The country style eatery will be tucked away, off the beaten track, where there is cooked with care and generosity. The best new restaurant will be awarded to a restaurant that has opened its doors in 2011. Thank you so much for taking the time and interest in this. Hoping to hear your voice come through in the top 10 too!
Ms Donnelly and her Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards will be closely watched, no doubt, as no restaurant likes change if it could disadvantage them. However, it does sound as if the awards will be more inclusive than in the past, and the additional categories give a lot more restaurants a chance of winning recognition at the awards. There will be many keen chefs holding thumbs that Ms Donnelly will grace their restaurant tables in the next few months!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The Grillroom opened on the main road of Franschhoek, not far from the Huguenot Monument, in a historic building belonging to Franschhoek property mogul Trevor Kirsten, almost two months ago. The owner of the restaurant is Franschhoek restaurateur Matthew Gordon, who owns Haute Cabriere, French Connection (with Kirsten as well), and is a co-owner of Cotage Fromage on Vrede & Lust wine estate. It opened as a unique one-stop restaurant, butchery and vinoteque.
The building has an L-shape, and allows the restaurant to be divided into three separate sections – the main restaurant section has about 10 tables, and a welcoming fireplace for those cold Franschhoek winter nights. The butchery section is much smaller, whilst a private dining room upstairs can seat about 16 guests. The Vinoteque is also upstairs.
The restaurant interior is sparsely decorated, with some black and white photographs. Red light fittings dominate. Raw brickwork gives the restaurant a cosy informal feel, not as gourmet as some of the other restaurants on the same road in this gourmet village of note.
Before we looked at the menu, we are told about an extensive list of non-steak specials, mainly seafood ones, which seemed to contradict the “steakhouse” feel of the restaurant. The no-nonsense menu is a large A3, and introduces the restaurant: “It is a restaurant that takes pains to source the finest meat and age it to perfection. Only the freshest fish and shellfish from the sustainable list is served. Each plate is masterfully created for your enjoyment. Match this with a winelist of international standards and friendly, informed staff. All our beef is aged for a minimum of 2 weeks before delivery to us. We then wet age it in a vac pac for a further week before it gets put onto your plate. We only deal with one producer and our meat is fully traceable to its source to guarantee quality”.
The starter list offers a choice of eight starters, including a “modern day king prawn cocktail with avocado and spicy cocktail sauce” (nice generous portion of juicy prawns, 3 slices of avocado, and too many leaves, tasty cocktail sauce); salmon sashimi; mussels, chicken liver pate and Grabouw wors with chakalaka (a surprise!). Four salad options are offered, ranging from R 48 for a roasted butternut, beetroot, tomato and chickpea salad with humus, to R78 for a seafood style salad.
The mains are served with delicious crispy thin cut French fries (a Gordon speciality, I have been told, with his mussels), baked potato with sour cream, black mushroom couscous, or savoury rice. In addition, stir-fried vegetables were also served. Fillet steak is served in 200 g and 250 g cuts, at R115 and R135, respectively, sirloin and rump R98 for 300 g, 300 g Hanger steak at R88, a 500 g T-bone costs R115 and a 300 g Rib eye steak R105. A range of sauces can be ordered for an additional R18. A choice of bastings and of rubs is offered, according to the menu, but was not asked by the waitress (we only saw this after we had left). My rump steak had a strong peppercorn taste to it, and burnt my mouth when I bit onto the peppercorns. I expected it to be served plain. My colleague’s spicy chicken stirfry dish, a special, was to her liking, and was not too strongly spiced.
Venison is also served, two springbok dishes cost R 125 and R 135. Beef, ostrich, lamb, chicken and vegetarian burgers are offered, costing R65 – R95. A list of favourites, such as duck (R125), lamb shank (R95), veal chop (R130), ribs (R110), baby chicken (R95) and calamari (R90) can also be ordered. Fish is treated as a daily special, but Norwegian salmon is regularly available at R130, as is a mussel dish. Subject to availability, prawns, crayfish, langoustines, and seafood platters can be ordered. Dessert choices are limited to creme brulee, chocolate mud cake, pear tart tatin, chocolate spring rolls, at about R40, and a cheese board.
An A3-sized winelist offers an impressive selection of 160 wines, about half of them being from Franschhoek. The list has a very brief description of the cultivar offered, and lists the region in which the wine is made. Unfortunately the vintages are not denoted. All 15 wines-by-the-glass are from Franschhoek wine estates, and are most reasonably priced at about R 25 for the red and white wines. I was offered a tasting portion of the Eikehof Shiraz first, without asking, and then a generous glassful was poured. Champagnes are stocked, ranging from R 395 for the Tribaut Brut Rose to R995 for the Bollinger Special Cuvee. Cap Classiques are reasonably priced between R140 – R240, Sauvignon Blancs cost R95 – R250, Chardonnay R90 – R350, Shiraz R95 – R950, Cabernet Sauvignon R95 – R795, Merlot R125 – R285, and Pinotage R120 – R495. A range of dessert wines is also available.
The Butchery of The Grillroom sells 3-week aged beef to take home. Fillet costs R143 per kg, rump and sirloin R80 per kg, Boerewors R48 per kg, Rib Eye steak R84 per kg, hangar steak R58 per kg, and T-bone steak R88 per kg. The Vinoteque sells all the wines that are on the winelist, as a wine shop, and restaurant patrons are invited to select a wine from it for their meal.
The Grillhouse will give locals and visitors to Franschhoek a different style of wining and dining – no-nonsense in an unusual building – historic on the outside, and modern facebrick inside , with friendly staff. It is a big space to fill. One wonders how all the restaurants in the village will keep going in winter, when we were one of only 2 tables on a cold wintry mid-week evening.
A request for a photograph to be e-mailed to me for the review was actioned immediately that evening, which is commendable. A follow-up visit for a cappuccino and pear tart tatin (requested with real cream) over the Franschhoek Literary Festival allowed me to try a dessert, and to meet Dominic Dear, the GM of the restaurant, with a professional and very friendly touch. The Head Chef is Geraldine White, previously from Dieu Donne in Franschhoek.
The Grillhouse, Heritage Square, Huguenot Street, tel 021 876-2548. www.thegrillroom.co.za (no content).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com.